So my wife and I were walking back to work after lunch at The Library Kitchen + Lounge when we ran into a friend on the sidewalk. “What are you guys up to?” he asked, and when we told him that we had just come back from The Library, he said, “Oh, that reminds me — I have some books on hold over there!”
Which rather illustrates the purpose behind a restaurant and bar being named The Library. The trend started in college towns for purposes of allowing students to be honest when they called home and told their parents they spent all Saturday night down at the library. But it also means that now I have to clarify when people downtown approach me for directions: “Do you mean the actual library, or the bar?” That is, do you want a Manhattan or a copy of “Manhattan Transfer,” a prize-winning porter or a Porter Prize-winning book? These are suddenly questions we have to ask.
The Library Kitchen + Lounge (313 President Clinton Ave.) is housed in the old Gusano’s spot, just down from the Flying Saucer and just around the corner from the Main Library branch of the Central Arkansas Library System. The spot still has that cavernous feel of the old Gusano’s, though it manages to feel a little more homey. Along the eastern and western walls are some slightly elevated booths that are quite comfortable, and there are traditional tables, seats around the central bar area, and picnic tables up front resting on green turf — basically, whatever form of seating you prefer.
Our first day, we started with an order of fried pickles ($6.99). Preferring fried pickle spears, I was prepared to be disappointed with these pickle chips, but I have to confess some astonishment at how good they were. The slices were thin and perfectly breaded, leaving the taste of the pickle perfectly balanced against the lightly seasoned breading.
For my entree, I ordered a fried pork chop sandwich ($12.99) with a side of scratch-made macaroni and cheese, while my wife got the pulled pork sandwich with fried okra ($10.99). When the waitress slid mine over, she said, “I’ve never seen them do a pork chop sandwich this big.” It was, indeed, quite a slab of breaded meat, hot but still retaining its juices, while the macaroni ranked as some of the best I’ve ever had at a restaurant. My wife refused all requests for just a bite of her sandwich, so it must have been good, though she quickly filled up on fried okra and let me finish off her plate. Like the pickles, the okra was perfectly sized and breaded. Moreover, everything fried tasted clean, not at all heavy or greasy. In my middle age, this stomach has developed an unfortunate sensitivity to deep-fried foods, and I have had to be careful about where and what I eat, but I had not a single twinge of gastric regret after leaving The Library.
The next time we went, we started with the pimento hushpuppies ($7.99). These were good, if a little chewier than many hushpuppies, lacking that cracking exterior, and the dipping sauce was a nice spicy accompaniment. This time around, the wife and I both aimed for some chicken. She got the grilled chicken sandwich with fries ($10.99), which she described as a basic but decent enough version of the entree.
Meanwhile, I branched out into the “Meat and Three” part of the menu ($13.50). Here, you get a choice of one of three meats (smoked chicken, pulled pork or spare ribs) and three side items. I went for the smoked chicken along with maque choux (pronounced “mock shoe,” a spicy corn salad), slaw and shoestring fries. The chicken portion was a whole leg and thigh, and while it wasn’t extravagantly seasoned, it was tender. The accompanying barbecue sauce was, to my palate, banal, but I did like the Alabama white sauce that also came with it; neophyte that I am, I had never before encountered this particular dressing before. The maque choux was flavorful, exhibiting its creole origins to the hilt, and the slaw was heartier and crunchier than many variants served in restaurants.
These were, in short, some pleasant lunchtime trips to The Library. We didn’t sample from the drinks menu, but that will be next on the list. If you do go for booze, though, be sure to bring some identification. I’ve heard that The Library cards people.
Hours are 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Tue.-Thu. and Sun., and 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.; the phone number is 501-916-9826.